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The Alaska Railroad—by Chip Waterbury

I would gladly argue the point that the best thing Warren G. Harding ever did as President was drive the golden spike to complete the construction of the Alaska Railroad. That one act in 1920 finally and firmly brought the remote Territory of Alaska into the 20th century.

Alaska Railroad near Denali

When you take the train today you learn more about this fascinating history along with the larger history of Alaska, Denali National Park and the tidewater communities of Anchorage, Seward and Whittier. You also learn about the vital links the line makes to the vast river transportation network of interior Alaska and the huge mineral resources it transports.

Two paragraphs and I’ve yet to speak of the majestic mountain scenery, rivers, lakes and thrilling opportunities to view wildlife along the entire route.

The ARR operates daily between Seward (mile 0) and Fairbanks (mile 470). They break the trip overnight in Anchorage. There is also a spur line over to Whittier in Prince William Sound.

Here is the schedule:

The day coaches have comfortable, reclining seats and huge windows. There is access to a retro-style 50’s dome car. This is called Adventure Class. (The basic trip.) A few years ago, the ARR added Goldstar Class which offers plusher coaches and seating along with a full length vista dome style glass roof and outdoor excursion viewing platform. It has gone over very well. Lately I have been suggesting customers take Goldstar for part of the trip to compare the experience.

There is a dining car on the train where you order a la carte from an good menu also a bistro car where you can grab a quick sandwich and drink--the choice is yours. For that matter, nobody will care if you bring your own picnic lunch.

Heading north out of Anchorage, views of Mt. McKinley (20,230 feet) are amazing—weather permitting. The stop at Denali Park comes mid-afternoon, then there is a thrilling trip through the Nanana River Gorge heading on to Fairbanks. Almost everybody stops for at least one night at Denali although I recommend two.

The trips from Anchorage down to Seward and Whittier work perfectly with excellent boat excursions available at each port for wildlife and glacier viewing all done while the train lays over, so you can make a big day of it while staying in Anchorage and not packing your bags up. Or you can head down to Seward for an overnight giving you time to take in a little more of the area.

As a whole, one trip on the train is a complete crash course in Alaska that can’t be duplicated in a rental car or on a tour bus trip. I can’t imagine a visit to central Alaska without a trip on the train.

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